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  • Jul 11, 2014
  • Updated: 3:00am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Good start to tackling pollution

Edwin Lau says the new administration's environmental team has shown it has the will to tackle pollution; now it just needs to find a way to act swiftly to implement meaningful policies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 1:29am

Two green-minded people have stepped into important positions in the new administration, tasked with taking charge of environmental matters. Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing and undersecretary Christine Loh Kung-wai have both worked on green issues, in the private sector and in non-governmental organisations respectively, before joining the government.

Both want to pick up what was left undone or idle by the former administration to improve Hong Kong's environment. This gives hope to the public that the two will be more aggressive than their predecessors in pushing for change. Let's hope they lead us, through innovative policies and plans, to cut waste at source; reduce and reuse food waste; change our fuel mix for electricity generation to one that is cleaner; and cut carbon emissions from local and overseas vessels.

Encouragingly, for starters the government is now considering phasing out commercial diesel vehicles once they reach the age of 15, to tackle our health-threatening roadside pollution.

Both Wong and Loh appear to have vision and are eager to engage with stakeholders from various sectors. But they have a tough challenge: they will find it far easier to persuade the public to buy into some new policies than to garner the necessary support for these policies from the other bureaus, including the ones that look after transport, buildings, planning and the like.

Take roadside pollution, for example.

Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying told the Legislative Council on Wednesday that the government is concerned about the health impact of harmful emissions from vehicles and ships. He will need to break through the bureaucracy's silo mentality to facilitate the collaboration necessary to solve this problem.

Roadside air pollution comes mainly from old and poorly maintained vehicles, especially commercial diesel vehicles, including franchised buses. At a recent function, Wong outlined the profile of Hong Kong's commercial diesel vehicles. Many were shocked to learn that 15 per cent of commercial diesel vehicles on our roads do not meet even the most primitive of European emissions standards; 11 per cent meet only the Euro I standards; and 20 per cent meet Euro II standards. That is almost half of the total diesel fleet in Hong Kong. The benchmark today for imported vehicles is Euro V.

The government has launched several subsidy schemes since 2007 to encourage owners of commercial diesel vehicles to scrap their old vehicles - of pre-Euro, Euro I and Euro II standards - in exchange for new ones with the most stringent emissions standards.

But because these were voluntary schemes, the take-up rate was low. It could be said that the government ended up saving a lot of money, but unfortunately it is spending it all on treating patients with respiratory illnesses.

Does the government understand the benefits of a simple reallocation of funds? If it were to spend its money on reducing harmful emissions, it would not need to spend millions of dollars on health care related to air pollution.

Old vehicles emit very high levels of pollutants. Diesel vehicles of Euro I standard, for example, emit four times the nitrogen oxide levels and over 14 times the levels of particulate matter of Euro V vehicles.

In July, Friends of the Earth (HK) measured the fine particles inside Hong Kong buses in various districts and found that the average hourly concentration reached 53.11 micrograms per cubic metre. That is more than twice the level of the 25 micrograms per cubic metre set by the World Health Organisation.

These PM2.5 particles - or particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter - are very harmful, as they can easily enter our lungs and even the bloodstream. The previous administration included PM2.5 in our proposed new air quality objectives, but set the level at the lowest WHO interim target of 75 micrograms per cubic metre. Medical experts have questioned our government about such a lax standard, which can in no way seriously protect public health. Yet, this was ignored by the Donald Tsang Yam-kuen administration, which also delayed making the revised air quality objectives the new legal standard until at least 2014.

Governments the world over should strive to safeguard public health. I believe our new chief executive and the two officials now heading the Environment Bureau have a strong desire to clean up Hong Kong's filthy air, to create a healthier environment for all citizens and wash away the city's infamous reputation for polluted air, something that is reported frequently by the international media.

To demonstrate its commitment, the government needs to set stringent standards for Hong Kong that are closer to the WHO guidelines; set a time frame to phase out all polluting vehicles with emissions standards of Euro II and below; mandate vehicle labelling, coupled with low-emission zones in highly populated areas; and rationalise bus routes.

Hong Kong must not delay in achieving high standards of air quality. Already, over 3,000 avoidable deaths each year are attributed to our bad air, according to the Hedley Environmental Index which tracks pollution's harm to our health.

Life is precious. By acting now, the government will win the support of green groups and many individuals.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is director general, affairs, at Friends of the Earth (HK). www.foe.org.hk

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This article is now closed to comments

megafun
If those two new Green-minded Government greenies does want to do some real green action, maybe they ought to create ZERO Emission Zones and replace those dirty buses by electric driven buses. GHG per mile for electric buses are lower than any modern EURO V - even using CLP/HKE's coal-fired power.
megafun
Edwin Lau is far too kind to the two new Green-minded Government greenies. BOTH merely proposed cutting "emissions" for better air quality; but none of their green-inputs will have any effect in reducing GHG!
"GREEN" - we hope does mean fighting climate change - reducing GHG or CO2 equivalent. Over the past few years, I've seen progaganda in HK where awards are given to green buildings that emits more GHG than average, because these so-call green buildings still uses air conditioning. When GHG per square metre is adopted as a "green" tool by that so call green society - BEAM; then maybe HK will actually get somewhere in the war on climate change.
waterman1
Most of the bus stops are too close, especially in Sai Ying Pun distict, the distance of some bus stops is merely 60 metres or less. We can imagine that would cause badly traffic jams and air pollution. kk lau
captam
The bus companies have been progressively removing "dirty" buses off our roads for several years now and fleet sizes are virtually static ( they are not permitted to expand in spite of needing additional buses for routes with growing demand).
You 'greenies' still don't get it! Its not just the buses and dirty diesel goods vehicles causing road-side pollution. There are some 450,000 private cars on the road ( growing at a rate of at least 20,000 per year), a considerable number of them spewing out filth in down-town congested streets.
In Hong Kong cars are not even inspected for road-worthiness until they are re-licensed after 7 years. Could you please ask yourselves why in Europe and other developed counties private cars are required to be inspected for emission standards after a car is 2 to 3 years old? Its done for a purpose ! Sensible governments fully realize that these cars are also polluters.
The cars have to go. Down-town districts must be pedestrianized.
But do you really expect our new Secretaries for the Environment to leave their chauffeur-driven Government cars behind and take a bus?
llleung
reducing air pollution is one of the major parts in improving the general health conditions of citizens in the territory. many respiratory diseases are related to the poor air situation. a main source of air pollution in urban regions is vehicles, that release fine particles to the roadside, making the city filty. stricter restriction and establishing more pedestrian areas or car-free regions are needed to provide polluition shelters.
John Adams
I agree 100% with Mr Edwin Lau's article!
It is true that C. Y. Leung has had a difficult and controversial start to his time as our new CE, especially where he has had to face entrenched private and selfish interests which oppose the common good. But in the area of the environment has done ( or at least started to do ) more in his few months in office that all the previous administrations combined.
The appointment of Christine Loh was a major step forward for the better and it seems Wong Kam-sing will work with Ms Loh to really tackle these problems. I do hope so !
rpasea
It is encouraging to see action finally being taken on replacing our city's old bus fleet. My vote would be for hybrid buses as not only are these cleaner under normal operating conditions, they are pollution free when at rest or in heavy traffic reverting to battery power at such times. Another factor is rationalizing and reducing routes. KMB recently attempted to rationalize some 130+ routes only to be thwarted by district councils. The end result was only 2 routes were changed.
Cleaner and fewer buses on our roads would be great improvements. Perhaps we can then look at reclaiming some of the land now allocated for vehicles for pedestrian use particularly in areas like Causeway Bay and TST.
 
 
 
 
 

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